There were many firsts to this yearâ€™s Union Budget. This was the first combined Budget that included the railways. Also, the Budget was tabled on the first day of February instead of the last.The general and railways budgets were being presented separately since 1944 on the last working day of February.
Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitley while presenting the General Budget 2017-18, in Parliament said that India was now in a position to synergize the investments in railways, roads, waterways and civil aviation. For 2017-18, the total capital and development expenditure on Railways has been pegged at Rs. 1,31,000 crore. This includes Rs. 55,000 crore provided by the Government, the Finance Minister added.
The Finance Minister said that, the Railways will focus on four major areas, namely, passenger safety, capital and development works, cleanliness and finance and accounting reforms. For passenger safety, a `Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Koshâ€™ would be created with a corpus of Rs.1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years, to be funded by seed capital from the Government, Railwaysâ€™ own revenues and other sources. Further, the Government will lay down clear cut guidelines and timeline for implementing various safety works to be funded from this â€˜Koshâ€™. Unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge lines will be eliminated by 2020. Expert international assistance will be harnessed to improve safety preparedness and maintenance practices.
Talking about the proposed steps for modernization and upgradation of identified corridors, Mr Jaitley said that Railway lines of 3,500 kms will be commissioned in 2017-18, as against 2,800 kms in 2016-17 and steps will be taken to launch dedicated trains for tourism and pilgrimage. In the next 3 years, the throughput is proposed to be enhanced by 10%. Further, the Minister added that Railways have set-up joint ventures with 9 State Governments and 70 projects have been identified for construction and development.
Regarding station redevelopment, the Finance Minister said that at least 25 stations are expected to be awarded during 2017-18 for redevelopment and 500 stations will be made differently- abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators. It is also proposed to feed about 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term, of which, a beginning has already been made in 300 stations. Works will be taken-up for 2,000 railway stations as part of 1000 MW solar mission, the Minister added.
Emphasizing the Governmentâ€™s focus on `Swachh Railâ€™, the Finance Minister said that a series of steps are proposed to be taken to enhance cleanliness in Railways, of which, an SMS based `Clean My Coach serviceâ€™ has already been started. It is now proposed to introduce the `Coach Mitra facilityâ€™, a single window interface to register all coach related complaints and requirements. Further, the Finance Minister said that by 2019, all coaches of Indian Railways will be fitted with bio-toilets. Pilot plants for environment friendly disposal of solid waste and conversion of biodegradable waste to energy are being set-up at New Delhi and Jaipur Railway Stations and five more such Solid waste management plants are now being taken-up.
The Finance Minister, in his Budget Speech, also gave details about proposed steps to be taken by the Government to help Railways stay competitive vis-a-vis other modes of transportation dominated by the private sector and retain their position of pre-eminence.
A new Metro Rail Policy will be announced with focus on innovative models of implementation and financing, as well as standardization and indigenization of hardware and software. This will open-up new job opportunities for our youth. A new Metro Rail Act will be enacted by rationalizing the existing laws. This will facilitate greater private participation and investment in construction and operation, he added.”